Jessie Raymond: Hosting is a challenge post-COVID

Last weekend we did something we haven’t done in well over a year: We had friends over for dinner.

I am so out of practice.

Pre-COVID, we regularly had company. But in the intervening time I lost all memory of how to entertain anyone other than immediate family. All day Saturday, I tried to recall how socializing worked.

An hour before this couple arrived, I realized I didn’t know what to wear. But I sensed that my standard bike shorts and an oversized T-shirt were too casual, even if I changed into ones that didn’t have holes.

I finally settled on a 24-year-old fuchsia bridesmaid’s dress the bride had promised me I’d be able to wear again. At last, she was right. To avoid looking too formal, however, I skipped the dyed-to-match pumps and went with flip-flops. I could tell I looked good because Mark (who declined to put on a tux) couldn’t stop staring at me.

When our friends pulled in, I panicked. I had no idea what to do. I started to salute but, catching myself, turned the gesture into a beckoning wave. “Hello, and welcome to our residential home where we live!” I said.

They glanced at each other. Mark rolled his eyes.

Inside, we chatted by the door for several minutes until I realized I was supposed to do something. Gah!

“Move away from here,” I said, pointing down at the doormat. “Let us go to a place for sitting.”

I wondered if they could tell I was nervous.

Mark led them to the back porch, glaring at me over his shoulder. But no sooner had we sat down than I remembered what came next. Leaping to my feet, I shrieked, “Drinks!” causing everyone to flinch.

At a loss, I had stocked up on everything, including Tang and Jägermeister — not mixed together, of course, because that would be weird, and also because no one took me up on the offer.

Eventually, I got us all situated with more traditional beverages and hors d’oeuvres — cheese and crackers as well as a bowl of Tootsie Rolls, which I figured counted as finger foods.

It took me a while to get past the awkward conversation openers. I tried a few: “Check out this nasty paper cut.” “I haven’t decided for sure yet, but I’m thinking of switching brands of toilet bowl cleaner.” “Ugh. I’m so over Anne Hathaway.”

Mark stared at me, and I knew what he was thinking: I was making the conversation all about me. So I tried turning it around. “Tell me,” I said, leaning toward the couple to show my genuine interest, “how often do you change your furnace filter?”

Luckily for me, everyone else seemed able to slip back into normal conversation, and eventually I loosened my satin sash and relaxed. We talked about our houses and our jobs and our kids and compared our vaccine side effects, and soon it was just like old times. How refreshing to hang out with friends. This was fun.

We had so much to talk about. I mean, Mark and I have plenty to talk about, too, but over the past year of isolation we haven’t landed on many new topics. In a typical after-dinner conversation, I say, “I can’t find the remote,” and he says, “Maybe you put it in the silverware drawer again.”

Talk carried on through the meal, and we stayed out on the porch until the mosquitoes forced us indoors.

Eventually the evening wound down, and our guests made their way to the door. Wired from the second cup of decaf I’d had with dessert, I couldn’t stop gushing about how good it was to see them. And it was true.

But as with greetings, I had forgotten how to do goodbyes, and my earlier panic returned. Perhaps offering them parting gifts would distract them from my anxiousness.

So as they stepped off the porch, I rushed back into the house and rummaged through drawers and closets. I came back out and, handing them each a salad fork, said, “Thank you for your service. Pardon our dust. I hate to see you leave, but I love to watch you go.”

They ran-walked to their car (curse those darned mosquitoes), and I turned to go back inside.

Mark stood on the porch, his face buried in his palms.

I guess it had been quite an evening for him, too.

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